Hammer & Tong 412

The duck egg, oyster mushroom and truffle butter dish is one of the cafe's most popular.
The duck egg, oyster mushroom and truffle butter dish is one of the cafe's most popular. Photo: Anu Kumar

412 Brunswick Street Fitzroy, Victoria 3065

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03 9041 6033
Opening hours Tues-Sat, 7am to late
Features Licensed, Accepts bookings, Vegetarian friendly, Outdoor seating
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef Michael Bolam
Payments Mastercard, Visa, eftpos

Former Vue du Monde sous chef Simon Ward is transforming pedestrian breakfast dishes into works of delicious art at Fitzroy's Hammer & Tong 412.

While some of his peers have seen Ward's move from fine dining to the cafe scene as a step down, Ward regards it as a logical move.

''It's just a progression of where eating is, in Melbourne,'' he says. ''A lot of the fine dining chefs are getting out of fine dining because there's a decline in the [number] of restaurants still doing that. And it's great for diners who might not have as much money as they might have a few years ago; it's tough times.''

Hammer & Tong 412's interior.
Hammer & Tong 412's interior. Photo: Anu Kumar

But not at Hammer & Tong 412 (in the site that formerly housed Brix), where Ward and his colleagues have the punters queuing at weekends for high-end brekkie and brunch at decidedly non-high-end prices.

''It's crazy on weekends - we've got a bit of a cult following,'' says Ward, conceding the recent Best Breakfast Spot gong in The Age's Good Food Under $30 Awards has boosted business. ''We can do 300-380 covers on a Saturday for breakfast and lunch. A lot of fine dining chefs can't get their head around that when they go into that environment.''

But Ward says training in high-end cuisine and presentation never leaves a chef. ''It's just tailoring those skills and putting them into the cafe scene,'' he says.

The all-day brekkie menu ranges into lunch, including this super-rich goat butter linguine with cured egg yolk, chilli ...
The all-day brekkie menu ranges into lunch, including this super-rich goat butter linguine with cured egg yolk, chilli pecorino, roquette and fried parsley. Photo: Anu Kumar

His creative menu ranges from pimped-up muesli - coconut bircher with toasted hazelnuts and crispy apple ($12) - to a lavender yoghurt custard with strawberry and pineapple gel, berries and lychee with basil cress ($16), and rye and shallot bagel with smoked rainbow trout, kale, pickled carrot, poached egg and nori-hollandaise ($18).

But it's the more out-there options that are Hammer & Tong's most popular dishes, such as duck egg with oyster mushrooms, truffle butter, snowpea tendrils served with the decadent fontina-crusted ''briont'' (a brioche-croissant hybrid, no less) soldiers ($18) and the breakfast ramen, with 62 degrees hen's egg, bacon, oyster mushroom, spring onion and bacon dashi ($15).

The soft-shell crab burger ($12), also available on their dinner menu, has become something of a signature dish, popular even at breakfast. The all-day brekkie menu ranges into lunch, which means you can opt for the super-rich goat butter linguine with cured egg yolk, chilli pecorino, roquette and fried parsley ($20) or the buttermilk lamb with goat's cheese, onion rings and eucalyptus and apple gel ($22).

The coffee is from Dukes and the drinks menu includes house-made creations such as the Turkish Delight soda.

Everything, even the simple burger, comes beautifully plated - no mean feat in the small, usually crowded space - and delivered by cheery staff.

A new dish on the menu, the sausage and egg muffin with espresso maple bacon foam (no, really) and smoked cheese ($16), is a marriage of fine dining and dude food, and was an instant hit in its first week. ''It's a great winter addition,'' Ward says. And, like Hammer's entire menu, something of an adventure.

http://hammerandtong.com.au/